Monday, September 13, 2010

Jackson Diehl Misquotes Abbas

I am cynical when I read an editorial that claims to be supported by a source that could be easily linked and discover, upon checking, that the source cited says something different. I am amazed when the author of the editorial provides a link and is contradicted by his source.

Jackson Diehl proposed something in his column on Israel-Palestinian peace talks that simply didn't ring true:
Netanyahu wants the implementation of Palestinian statehood to be phased, even if its final terms are agreed upon in advance. Initially at least, Israeli forces would patrol Palestine's eastern border with Jordan, and perhaps some settlements on Palestinian territory would remain in place.

But it's worth noting that Abbas, following his first extended private conversation with Netanyahu in Washington, spent the subsequent days giving interviews to Arab media in which he publicly rejected each of those terms. Palestinians, he said, will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state; they will not allow Israeli forces to remain in the West Bank. In fact, if he's pressured to make any concessions, he told the al-Quds newspaper, "I'll grab my briefcase and leave."
It's easy enough to click the link, right? So what does Diehl's source actually say?
[Abbas] told the daily that he would halt negotiations if construction in West Bank Jewish settlements is resumed. He also said he has no intention of discussing recognition of Israel as a Jewish state with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Israel can call itself what it wishes," he said.1

Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit joined in the criticism of Israel's demand for recognition as the state of the Jewish people, explaining that the issue raised concern regarding the status of Israel's Arab population, even asking whether they would remain in the country or be expelled.
So what Abbas ruled out was having Netanyahu condition a peace deal on the recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, to the potential detriment of Israel's Palestinian population. Nothing in that position retreats from the P.A.'s recognition of Israel as a state. For that matter, why is the question of how Israel defines itself vis-à-vis its ethnic and religious minorities a matter for these talks, as opposed to a matter of internal Israeli politics?

Polls do suggest that
...after reaching a permanent agreement on all issues of the conflict, [60% of Palestinians believe that] there should be recognition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people.
The issue here turns in no small part on semantics - a "Jewish state" versus "a state for the Jewish people". Given the presence of extremists like Avigdor Lieberman in the Netanyahu cabinet, though, I can understand getting hung up on semantics. Support for Israel as a state for the Jewish people is not inconsistent with an expectation that it will treat its minority populations as equal citizens, not try to find ways to diminish their rights, pressure them to emigrate, or carve their population centers out of the country, but even if you assume Netanyahu's intentions are good the words "Jewish State" implicate a long history of distrust and mistreatment of Israel's Palestinian population and amplify the rhetoric of people like Lieberman.

As for the presence of Israeli forces, it can hardly be a surprise that after four decades of occupation the Palestinians would want a peace deal to actually end the occupation. The Palestinians have for decades proposed that Israeli occupation forces be replaced by peacekeepers from another nation, even the United States. There's no indication that Abbas is suggesting that foreign forces cannot be present on Palestinian land to help ensure stability and to protect and preserve the peace - just that he wants those forces to be from nations other than Israel, as is the case in Lebanon. To the extent that Diehl believes that Palestinian public opinion favors the continued presence of Israeli troops on Palestinian land once a peace deal has been struck, I would very much appreciate his identifying the poll. I very much doubt it exists.

So contrary to Diehl's suggestion, Abbas has not ruled out recognizing Israel as a Jewish State - just that such a demand is not an appropriate part of the present negotiations. Opinion polls do suggest that Palestinians would support softer language, and there's little reason to expect that language along the lines of what is reflected in those polls cannot be negotiated as part of any peace deal that is reached.

Further, there is no reason to believe that Abbas would be opposed to the presence of peacekeeping forces in a future Palestinian state. There is no reason to believe that there is any appreciable support among Palestinians for the presence of Israeli troops, past, present or future. And if the demand from Netanyahu is "Peacekeeping forces must be Israeli or we cannot negotiate," it is not Abbas who is being unreasonable.

The biggest threat to peace talks, of course, is a resumption of construction in Israel's West Bank settlements, something Netanyahu has promised will soon occur. Diehl somehow forgot to even mention the issue.
1. This choice of words reminds me of Netanyahu and his spokespersons in relation to a Palestinian rump state:
[T]he first Israeli government to talk about a Palestinian state, to even mention the words, was the ultra right-wing Netanyahu government that came in 1996. They were asked, “Could Palestinians have a state?” Peres, who had preceded them, said, “No, never.” And Netanyahu’s spokesman said, “Yeah, the fragments of territory that we leave to them, they can call it a state if they want. Or they can call it fried chicken.”

1 comment:

  1. The question of whether Israeli forces should be post-war peacekeepers implicates a lot of unpleasant history, the successful joint patrols of the Oslo period notwithstanding. There is a long history in which Israeli forces have stood idly by or affirmatively protected settlers who were inflicting violence on Palestinians, occupying their homes, cutting their trees, killing their livestock or vandalizing their property. I am not sure of the current rules of engagement, but historically Israeli soldiers were prohibited from using force against settlers even when they threatened Palestinian life - the hideous Baruch Goldstein episode would have been avoided had Israeli soldiers been permitted to shoot him to stop him from slaughtering Palestinians, but they followed their orders and let him kill. The recent acquittal of a soldier who used rules of engagement as an excuse to kill a small child stands as another example. Even with revised rules of engagement, there's going to be an incredible void of trust.

    But Netanyahu has even more to fear from foreign peacekeepers. The radicalization of the settler movement has created fear that settlers will attack Israeli forces who attempt to force the evacuation of settlements abandoned as part of a peace deal. It's not inconceivable that extremist settlers will attack the foreign soldiers, creating a public relations nightmare for Israel. The number of Israeli soldiers who come from more extreme factions has risen in recent years, raising questions about whether soldiers will even follow orders to evacuate settlements. Given all of that history, why would Palestinians believe that Israeli soldiers would work to enforce a peace deal and protect Palestinian life? Unless the settlements and settler-only areas are rolled back, even if Israel recognizes a "Palestinian state", Palestinians would continue to be second-class citizens in their own state.


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